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How to Create a Digital Product Passport?

Brought to you by Daniel Gregory and Tian Daphne from Circularise 

As businesses navigate the fast-evolving landscape of global supply chains, the importance of transparency and sustainability has never been more apparent. Forward-thinking organisations are recognising the transformative potential of digital product passports (DPPs) as means to unlock a wealth of benefits, from new business models to meeting stringent compliance requirements.  

If you are among the visionary leaders who see the value in harnessing the power of DPPs for your business, you are on the cusp of taking a significant leap towards greater operational excellence and environmental stewardship. Implementing a DPP is not just an investment in compliance; it’s a strategic move towards future-proofing your business, enhancing supply chain resilience, and building trust with customers who value ethical and sustainable practices. 

First, it is crucial to understand what a DPP is or is not, and what it is built to handle. A digital product passport collects tamper-proof data designed to enhance traceability and facilitate sustainability throughout the product’s lifecycle. It is designed to document and communicate the environmental impact and sustainability credentials of a product from creation to end-of-life.  

All of this is beyond the scope of a digital twin, which serves as a real-time digital counterpart to a physical object or system, primarily used for monitoring, simulation, and predictive analysis. And while a DPP can serve as a reference for standard compliance, sustainability certifications, life cycle analyses, and serial numbers, these concepts on their own do not signify a DPP themselves.  

Similarly, DPPs can benefit greatly from referencing product databases, but can be customised to the individual product or batch in a way a database cannot. Connecting the DPP to a physical asset is often done using a QR code or Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID) tag instead of a physical passport, but these serve as links to the DPP, not the passport itself.  

First, understand what you are trying to do. Think of how you want to use your DPP, and what you want to communicate with it. The digital product passport is a tool you can use to solve some data-related problems in the industry, but not all of them.

Are you trying to meet a new regulation or compliance scheme for your product? Is it hard to gain visibility into your supply chain for resilience and sustainability planning? Has your customer asked for sensitive information relating to your product’s life cycle impacts? Are you curious about where your business fits in the circular economy and industry supply chain? All of these challenges are great opportunities to implement a DPP. 

The next step is understanding the scope of the digital product passport. What counts as the product, and where you are in the supply chain for that product. Let’s say you manufacture graphics cards for laptops and other electronic device uses. While the graphics card is the product you create, consider whether it serves as a component within a larger final product, such as the laptop itself.  

This helps you anticipate what kind of data you might need to include in your DPP and think about who might use it. Consider the scope in the other direction of the supply chain as well – how far backwards or forwards do you want the data, and how far can you possibly go?  

Once you know how and why you will be using your DPP, the next step is defining what information you want to include in it. Generally, you need information on how the product was made, the product’s immutable properties (chemical properties, physical properties), and environmental data on its formation. It is possible to trace materials back to their resource extraction stage or recycling stage if the product is circular, and this information should also be included. 

Good places to start are the bill of materials, the bill of processes, technical or material data safety sheets, and any data inputs for Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) calculations. You can supplement this with standard compliance and certificates, if available.  

The power of the digital product passport to herald a circular economy comes from the addition of data from your product’s chain of custody and RE-strategies. A detailed chain of custody provides transparency by documenting each party’s actions and the product’s history, which helps to determine the next best step in the supply chain. Warranty data, hazardous substance identification, and safe handling protocols help keep people safe further down the supply chain. Information on return, repair, reuse and recycling can help make sure the components in the product are used to their maximum value and not wasted.  

It is important to consider all data points for the product across the supply chain, not just what you can provide yourself. This includes data you need from your suppliers, but also data you can provide to your customers. This can be a tricky task, but a reliable DPP provider can help you with this when building the traceability system. The ability to easily and securely share that data could make your product stand out in an increasingly data-driven world. 

Once you have all the data points you need, it is time to review them. There are two big questions to guide the review process: reason and responsible party.  

The reason is based on why you need that data point. What is it for, and do you need to include it? There may be critical business information tied to that data point so it is also prudent to consider who you want to give access. Sensitive data can be encrypted so that only trusted parties (e.g.: compliance auditing services) can view it upon request. 

The responsible party is who will provide that data point. That could be you, but it might also be your suppliers or customers. Some data points, like water use for life cycle assessment inputs, can be applicable to multiple actors along the supply chain. This is critical information for building a life cycle analysis of the product and a perfect use case for a digital product passport. 

Finally, think about who you will be collaborating with and how to get them on board. A supply chain can be complex, so it is important to make sure everyone is working within a defined set of rules. The next critical move is to actively engage with your suppliers and customers to ensure their buy-in and participation in your implementation of your DPP.  

To facilitate this process, it is highly beneficial to partner with a DPP provider. How will you decide which DPP provider you want to work with, and how that collaboration will go? Does the DPP provider work with others in your supply chain, making it easy to build the DPP? Do they have a straightforward process for onboarding participants and transferring data within their system? Does their platform possess the capability to integrate with other software tools, such as LCA calculators, or with information systems similar to those that CE-RISE is developing? Ask competing DPP providers if there is interoperability between their platforms, so your supply chain can choose the provider that best fits their needs. 

The adoption of a digital product passport represents a significant step forward in achieving greater supply chain traceability, sustainability, and compliance with regulatory standards. By engaging with suppliers, customers, and a specialised DPP provider, businesses can navigate the complexities of implementation with ease.  

As companies continue to prioritise responsible manufacturing and product lifecycle management, the DPP stands as a testament to the commitment to environmental stewardship and operational efficiency. With the right preparation and collaboration, the transition to a DPP-enabled supply chain can be a smooth and transformative journey towards a more sustainable future.